Gerard Way: Flexing His Writing Muscles with Umbrella Academy

A comics interview article by: Scott Allie
Gerard Way is a busy man, currently on tour with the east coast rock band, My Chemical Romance, which he has fronted since its 2001 inception. SBC wanted to interview the writer/musician/School of Visual Arts graduate (and former DC Comics intern) regarding the September launch of The Umbrella Academy, his Dark Horse comic book series with artist Gabriel Bá. Dark Horse, respecting the busy schedule of their storyteller (and the fact an interview was not feasible at present), did SBC a favor and granted SBC access to an exclusive interview that Dark Horse editor Scott Allie did with Way. Before launching into the interview, here’s a bit of info on The Umbrella Academy: “Once, the Umbrella Academy was unstoppable. Under the tutelage of their guardian and mentor, Dr. Reginald Hargreeves, its members spent their childhoods fighting evil and honing their extraordinary gifts.

Until something went terribly wrong.

Now, nine years later, the estranged members of the Umbrella Academy are reunited by the death of the only parent they've ever known and the rise of a new and terrible threat. Will they be able to overcome their history for long enough to save the world-one more time?”

SBC wishes to thank Way and Allie for the interview, as well as Dark Horse’s Publicity Coordinator, Jacquelene Cohen. On the front end of this process, Gemma Milroy lit a fire under SBC's Tim O’Shea and deserves our thanks as well.

Scott Allie (Allie): Have you kept up on comics while you've been on the road for The Black Parade?

Gerard Way (Way): Not as much as I'd like. I go through phases where I buy a few trades—they get heavy—and I'll read them on the bus. It is nearly impossible to keep up with monthly books, as they are hard to track down and they get destroyed pretty easily.

Allie: Where are the best comics shops in Europe?

Way: The Forbidden Planet's in the UK...I always seek them out when I'm over there. Lots of fun and you can spend hours there.

Allie: So far for titles of stories or issues, we have The Day the Eiffel Tower Went Berserk, We Only See Each Other at Weddings and Funerals, and But the Past Ain't Through with You. Titles for your songs and records tend to be long and cumbersome too. What do you try to do with titles?

Way: I try to create titles that almost juxtapose the situation they are in. I was always a big proponent for long song titles, even before they became a thing. I think it was because I was so frustrated with the grunge and nü-metal eras ... one-word song titles that had nothing to do with the song. I decided to make the song and story titles exactly what they are about, almost to the point of humor. I find this works for comics as well. I love comic stories that sound like rock albums. Alan Moore and Grant Morrison both do this, sometimes even titling stories after songs or lines from songs themselves. I find it very effective ... basically making something what it's not.

Allie: You've struck up a friendship with one of your biggest influences, Grant Morrison—has he given you any advice on the writing?

Way: Grant has been amazing. The relationship that he, his wife, and I have is very inspiring. It was like finding kindred spirits thousands of miles away and connecting with them. I feel at times like their kid brother. Grant's advice to me has always been simple: just be myself. He had convinced me that I had the ability as a storyteller to connect with people already, said I had already been doing it for years. So just keep doing what I was doing. Also to be fearless, which is what I think of when I think of his work. He also constantly reminds me that I am on this great adventure because of my work and my lifestyle, and to never forget that. He is always pushing me to get the most out of it. I have heard many writers say that writing is like working a muscle—you have to use your muscle every day. Grant's said this to me, and he's correct.

Allie: Readers know The Umbrella Academy is a team book, and they've met all the members of the team now, between online previews and Free Comic Book Day, but what about they haven't seen a major villain emerge.

Way: The villain in the first series is very interesting, very different than an average super villain in that he doesn't have any super powers, or an army of robots, or much of a costume, for that matter. He's someone that's very smart, very passionate ... like someone that found a small loophole in science and he's exploiting it. I like the idea of a team of extraordinary individuals fighting unconventional things, like ideas, theories, or physical structures instead of costumed super villains. This is something I hope to implement more in the future, though The Umbrella Academy will have its fair share of costumed lunatics.

Allie: Do you feel like certain characters are starting to stand out, from what was always intended to be an ensemble cast?

Way: It's an ensemble cast in that I feel the characters are very unique ... either the first of their kind or a strange and new interpretation of an existing archetype. I really tried to think up powers that were very distinct, like The Rumor. I'm very happy with her specifically as far as her powers go ... though it makes her at times a pest to write.

Allie: How about that—can you explain her power?

Way: She has the ability to tell a lie—and it must be a lie—and it comes true. Now. for the most part these are little white lies, or lies that won't outright harm someone. Like she can't say, "I heard a rumor you died of a stroke," and the villain dies of a stroke. She has to say something like, "I heard a rumor that the Steinway piano they're moving on the fire escape is too heavy for the structure ... there's a good chance it'll fall"—and then for some crazy reason, there's a piano, on the fire escape, with movers and the works, and it falls.

Allie: How do you find writing a female character?

Way: Very refreshing actually. I would say she talks the most like a normal person, because she's surrounded by these boys playing cowboys and Indians, yet she has no desire to play anymore. She's the one character where I write a line of dialogue and I don't have to say to myself, "Is this too ridiculous?" I think she says mostly what I would say in some of these situations, responds like a normal person. She's also someone who has had a lot of personal failures in her life, and I find her very sympathetic for that reason.

Allie: Do you see her ever becoming romantically linked to one of the male characters? Or fought over by them?

Way: I can't imagine anyone fighting over her, because there's so much baggage between the characters, that if any of them eventually find they love each other, that will be a rarity unto itself. Though I can see there being some sort of romantic involvement or strong feelings between her and at least one of the other characters. And since they're adopted, it isn't exactly illegal.

Allie: Is she sort of the weak link, the little sister to the others, like Kitty Pryde?

Way: I think she's definitely able to hold her own because of her power. Weak links or "squishy" characters should be reserved for children and monkeys. All of the characters, even the ones that don't have the most outstanding powers, are very resourceful—they're survivors.

More important than the costumes and the powers are the personalities. These are a group of individuals that really bring out the worst in each other ... I think their goal is to eventually bring out the best in each other. As far as specific characters go, Spaceboy is basically my anchor ... He's the one character that will always behave like I want him to. But even more than him, I noticed the Kraken has begun to write himself ... he is such a strong personality that scenes involving him usually go a certain way, and it's never in anyone else's favor. I personally wouldn't want to be in the same room as him, but I have a feeling he will be a favorite. I also really love a character that has no real tremendous power that benefits the team, but he's great with a knife. The more I write the book the more I grow attached to all of the characters, though, and I find they always surprise me.

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